‘La Llorona’: The Incredible and Haunting Film From Guatemala

La Llorona (2020) excels to create an interesting new take on the folk tale filled with horror and insightful nuances.

CREDIT: La Casa de Production

Just like many Latinos, I was told the fear inducing story of La Llorona at a very young age. I was about six years old and my abuelita told us the story of this “weeping woman.” Now, the version I was told goes as follows. La Llorona was an indigenous woman who lived by the border. She had two kids, a boy and a girl, who she loved very much but she fell in love with a man who lived in the United States. La Llorona falls for the man but his feelings aren’t as strong as hers. After a rocky relationship he leaves her and she stays in Mexico while he travels up north for work. La Llorona believes that nothing could be wrong with her that could cause this man to leave her. She comes to the conclusion that her kids are at fault and one night she takes her children to the Rio Grande River to drown them. As they lose their life being drowned La Llorona realizes that she has done wrong and proceeds to drown herself. As she meets her creator, her God tells her that she cannot enter their kingdom until she finds her children and truly understands the severity of her acts. La Llorona comes back down to Earth and every night she weeps “mis hijos (my children)” as she searches for them. If you encounter her she may take your children from you especially if they roam the river alone.

I would like to remind you all that I grew up on the border so this kept me far away from the river which was possibly the goal of this story being told to me at such a young age. The story of La Llorona has gone through changes various times that we don’t really know the actual story or where it originated from. One thing is true though, all of its incarnations have been fear inducing. The story of La Llorona has been translated onto the silver screen before but was done terribly at adapting such a terrifying story. On the contrary, what I watched on Shudder was far from being terrible.

La Llorona (2020) is set in Guatemala as General Enrique Monteverde is tried for genocide after him and his army murdered many of the local indigenous population in the 80’s. At first, Monteverde is tried and found guilty of genocide but because the old man is not in the best of condition he is allowed to stay at his home under a form of house arrest. After losing all but one of his helpers at the home he employs a beautiful indigenous woman with long black hair and a white gown. Once Alma the new housekeeper starts to work for them and various protests happening every day, something starts to feel very strange within the home as the effects of isolation start to settle in.

Jayro Bustamante’s La Llorona (2020) is exhilarating, nuanced, and downright incredible. First of all, let me talk about the bare minimum, La Llorona is an indigenous woman and the fact that she is played by an indigenous actress is beautiful to see. Not only is she casted appropriately but her and the various indigenous people in the film talk different dialects of the Mayan language. Such important characteristics that seem to be the bare minimum are never represented in Hollywood. The way that this Guatemalan film incorporates the folk story makes for an incredibly interesting retelling. The modern retelling and commentary of Latin American politics within this horror film is vastly nuanced. Instead of focusing entirely on the folklore of La Llorona, the film uses the story more as a backbone to create the bone chilling atmosphere of the picture. Maria Mercedes Coroy as Alma/La Llorona is incredible and goosebumps inducing. Every deep stare from her feels like it is looking deep into your soul. Everything from the performances, cinematography, and fluid direction makes for quite a picture. La Llorona (2020) is truly a masterful effort from Bustamante and their team of creatives.

This film is one of the best of the year, and I highly recommend you all watch it as soon as possible. Watch La Llorona (2020) on Shudder.

‘The Mole Agent’: A Heartbreaking But Unique Documentary

Chile’s official selection for the Best International Feature race at the 2021 Oscars is filled with nuance, heartbreak, and a conversation that needs to be started.

CREDIT: Micromundo Producciones

Why do we put our elders in nursing homes? I hope we start to ask ourselves that more often after 2020. These homes can be a nice spot for some, but it can be a really lonely place for those that stay there. Plus, one cannot ignore the history of elderly abuse that occurs in nursing homes. Maite Alberdi’s documentary urges us to ask ourselves, why would we place such important people in our lives in these institutions?

The Mole Agent (2020) looks at an investigation of possible elderly abuse happening at a nursing home after a daughter brings up her concerns that her mother may be abused at the facility. A private investigator seeks out an old man to go undercover and collect as much information as possible. While our protagonist collects information he starts to make friends and grow close to the people staying at the home. What he learns with this information is just as heartbreaking as possible elderly abuse.

Maite Alberdi directs one of the best films of the year and one of the biggest contenders to win next year’s Best International Feature. The film is tense and reflects one of a spy thriller but the documentarian backbone of the movie keeps it on its toes. The cinematography and naturalistic lighting is just right for this film. It all comes together to create the atmosphere of this unique film. What makes this movie special though and worth all of the hype critics are giving it? It is the writing and the people we meet within the film. Every single moment we spend with our protagonist as we learn more about the people who stay at the home allows us to learn more about what this facility does and how the people staying there feel about it. The stories and people we meet throughout the film are beautiful and carry such heartbreaking weight with them. Some of them have not been visited in years and have adopted a new family in the home with the friends they make there. It’s because of all this that The Mole Agent (2020) is beautiful and touches your heart especially those who have experience with these facilities. I know that once the credits started rolling and a bit of tears traveled down my cheeks I immediately thought of my abuelita. The film is magical yet so simple and because of that it works so well.

It is not as groundbreaking on the level that I thought I’m No Longer Here (2020) was but it is still such an important film to keep an eye out for it throughout this awards season. Watch The Mole Agent (2020) on virtual cinema at The Film at Lincoln Center.

Tenet Review: Don’t Try to Understand it, Feel it

Christopher Nolan’s back at it again, a triumphant return to save or at least help keep cinema progressing in these uncertain times we are living.

CREDIT: WarnerBros

What for me might be his best comes after a myriad of delays and issues through some of the most trying months in recent decades, and he still delivers the cinema experience. The film was a welcome and dearly missed feeling for 2 hours and a half (add on up to half an hour depending on your cinema’s add and trailers). I completely forgot about 2020 and everything that has been happening as of late.

From Nolan’s masterful sound design, the way it blends brilliantly crafted gunshots and other audio effects with Ludwig Göransson’s massive and bo bass-driven score to the way these tease Travis Scott’s “The Plan”-written for the film by Göransson, Scott and WondaGurl (Ebony Naomi Oshunrinde). There are multiple times the film is bringing in enough of the intro to the song to notice without feeling overbearing to the point it feels natural when it plays later.

If you weren’t all-in on John David Washington already, I don’t know what your excuse can be post-Tenet. The man leads this film without any hiccups when it comes to action while going toe to toe with Robert Pattinson and Kenneth Branagh dramatically. His performance builds and maintains chemistry with Elizabeth Debicki and forming one formidably charismatic duo with the aforementioned, Pattinson. If this film dragged or had many issues, this duo could probably mask quite a few, given that it doesn’t have any glaring ones of note, they shine all the brighter. These core four are surrounded quite well with some notable smaller roles where Michael Caine, Clémence Poésy, Himesh Patel, Dimple Kapadia, and Aaron Taylor Johnson all do very well with their screentime.

Tenet is a film that plays with palindromes, metaphors, and contrasting ideas while planting enough seeds throughout, for there always to be something in the background to enjoy upon a rewatch or further inspection, and while Nolan plays with the ideas of inversion the actions scenes involving these are sublime. Even the smaller, more mundane aspects have you walking out of the cinema as if you were the one inverted for at least a few steps. And I don’t know in the end, as a viewer I can’t get over the birds.

We may have no friends at dawn, but if you enjoyed Tenet, you have one in this fellow viewer. Tenet is playing in theaters internationally and will be opening limitedly in the United States on September 2nd.

‘Come and See’: A Horrific Masterpiece of Hell

Elem Klimov’s Come and See (1985) is a relentless horrific masterpiece that is a mandatory watch to understand the horrors of human ugliness.

CREDIT: Sovexportfilm

Usually, when one experiences a nightmare one at least wakes up from it, they will wake up in a sweat and tormented by what they experienced in their nightmare. If the nightmare was a one-time thing then you will go on with your day unfazed. There are also those nightmares that haunt you forever and you can never forget even if you try to. The atrocities depicted in Elem Klimov’s Come and See (1985) are a nightmare but they are nightmares that the people of Belarus never woke up from.

Come and See (1985) follows Flyora a young Belarusian boy who joins the Belarusian Partisans in their fight against the Nazis in 1943. Soon after Flyora’s village is exterminated he embarks on a journey that introduces him to the horrors of war. Throughout the film, you see atrocity after atrocity and it all effects and ultimately changes Flyora. From the first time you see Flyora to the last, you are witnessing a completely different person inside and out.

The film is masterfully directed by Elem Klimov, everything from the cinematography to the sound design and score formulates one of the most harrowing pieces of art I have seen since Polytechnique (2009) last year. The atrocities presented on the screen even though they are heavy to sit through are important to watch. I like many people in the United States never learned about these atrocities committed against the Belarusian people. Movies, like Come and See (1985), should be seen by everyone 17 and above in a history classroom setting. We must watch and learn from this part of our history as human beings. It is what we owe to those who had their villages burned down by soldiers who followed a hateful and outright evil ideology.

My life is forever changed after watching this picture, and I do not think I will ever be the same after watching this. I will have the Criterion Collection Blu Ray on my shelf as I wait for a time to rewatch it that may or may not come back. One thing is for sure, Come and See (1985) is truly the greatest war film of all time but not because it is a spectacle or a glamorization of these events. This film shows what we as humans are capable of and is a call for peace while also being evidence of these terrible moments.

You can stream Come and See (1985) on the Criterion Channel or purchase the new restoration on Criterion’s website or Barnes and Noble.

75 Films From Asia: HAPPY TOGETHER (1997)

Happy Together (1997), is a beautiful and sensual film from Wong Kar-wai that is a special achievement from the incredible director.

CREDIT: Kino International

There is not a lot of filmmakers that I can say that I fell in love with their work just one movie in. Now having watched Chungking Express (1995) and In The Mood For Love (2000), I can say that Wong Kar-wai has definitely made it to one of my favorite directors of all time. Even though those two films are hard to top it does not take away from this heartbreaking but sensual piece of art. Wong Kar-wai once again shows me that there is something so special to the way he crafts his movies. There is a sort enticing but saddening aspect about Happy Together (1997) that pours out of the screen when you watch it.

The film revolves around a turbulent romance between its protagonists, Ho Po-Wing and Lai Yiu-fai as they live in Buenos Aires, Argentina after moving from Hong Kong. It is filled with beautifully stylized love scenes and stunning chemistry between the two actors. You can totally feel the romance between the two of them, but most importantly you can feel the heartbreak both feel not being able to be there for each other. Both of them even though similar in ways are completely different opposites that attract.

The film combats homophobia, sex work, love, loneliness, obsession, and heartbreak on top of more minor themes. Kar-wai never fails to show the ups and downs of their relationship while creating a stylized piece of art. Everything from the music choices to the coloring choices makes the movie as exquisite as it feels. The picture never fails to depict its characteristics while also aiming to create something different from other romance films.

It is not as great as In The Mood For Love (2000) but it is also not a bad film by any means. I am sure that Wong Kar-wai does not even know what it means to make a bad movie. All three of these movies form him feel special, and they are all filled with something to fall in love with throughout its runtime.

Watch Happy Together (1997) on the Criterion Channel. Follow along with the rest of this challenge on Letterboxd or the google doc that has the rest of the films on this challenge.